SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEWS - IT’S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE
by Paul Fischer
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Director - Gurinder Chadha
Indie films that one inevitably have to sit through at Sundance tend to be dark and dour, no matter how impressive they, so to be able to see something as vibrant, fresh and original as It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, directed by the magnificent Gurinder Chadha [Bend it like Beckham] is a bresh of fresh air.
With references to Frank Capra, and even Brianj de Palma’s Carrie, Chadha’s latest film about an Indian woman living in London, is a classic screwball romantic comedy with a twist, about the pressures on Indian women to get hitched. Set in West London we have the indomitable Mrs. Sethi, a doting Punjabi mother obsessively seeking a a marital match for her appealing, slightly overweight but only daughter daughter, Roopie. When a string of murders involving poisonous curries and chapati dough begins to rattle the neighborhood, things really start to heat up. As detectives and ghosts start to appear in the once ordered chaos of the Sethi household, Roopie’s love life gets an injection of excitement, from both an Indian detective, working undercover, and even the fiancé of her best friend.
Thematically, It;’s a Wonderful Afterlife develops themes already expounded up in writers Gurinder Chadha, and Paul Mayeda Berges early collaboration, Bend it Like Beckham, which also took place in West London and explored a central character’s need for independence in a male-dominated Indian society. But Chadha has her own, unique cinematic voice, one that takes a simple genre and completely subverts it, no more so than in this fresh and beguiling comic gem. On a purely visual level, Afterlife is a dazzling and assured affair, complete with a gorgeous cinematic palette of rich and vibrant color, beautifully shot by the brilliant Dick Pope, and beautifully designed by Nick Ellis. Wirth doses of classic Bollywood interwoven, music is rhythmic and consistently evocative. The script by Chadha and Berges is witty and Chadha’s direction breezy and imaginative. She has elicited some flawless performances from a diverse cast, from the gorgeous Goldy Notay as Roopie, to Heroes’ Sendhil Ramamurthy as the dashing detective, to the comic mastery of the brilliant Sally Hawkins who ends up in one of the most delicious moments in the film, and of course the wonderful Shabana Azmi as the poor mother in the middle of all the chaos that ensues.
There are ghosts and romance, music and pure comedy, in this Capraesque charmer, a fresh, wonderfully original and visually gorgeous entertainment that never forgets that it is also deeply human and very smart. The film should prove to be a commercial hit and it is very likely a US deal will be announced imminently. A comic masterpiece, they really don’t make films like this these days, but thankfully we have Gurinder Chadha to remind us that with the help of a quartet of apparitions, love and curry are in the air.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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